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Home-made Lining & Lettering - 1




A couple of members on the forums have indicated that they would like to know more details of how I create my own transfers for lining and lettering pre-grouping models.


I have already written a little in my earlier post "Cheats Lining & Lettering" and I must also admit that, because I model GWR prototypes, much of what is needed can actually be bought from the trade! I am one of those "scratch-builders" that likes to do things "because I can" :)


I use a Windows PC, together with Adobe Photoshop Elements (PSE) software, to produce the 'artwork' and print onto white Inkjet Water-Slide Decal Paper from http://www.craftycomputerpaper.co.uk/ , using a Hewlett-Packard Deskjet 6980 printer. Of course, other equipment and materials could be used but these are what I am familiar with and will describe in detail. I use the 'white' decal paper, rather than 'clear', because printers are designed to print on a white background and the inks tend to be too transparent to show up against a dark background. In addition, there is no white ink, so white areas are formed by letting the white background show through.


I shall begin by describing a rather basic operation:- that of creating boiler bands.


To do this, we have to set up the computer and associated printer to work to scale and then use these tools to produce the various coloured lines which, together, make up the band. For GWR locomotives, during the period 1881 - 1906, the standard boiler bands consisted of a 1½" wide black band, flanked by two 1/8" orange-chrome lines.


Since 1/8" is the smallest dimension in the lining that I am designing, I base the settings in PSE around this figure. I feel that a 3 pixel (px) wide line is the minimum for reliable and even printing, so my first calculations assume that 3 pixels will equate to 1/8" in the prototype. Hence, if 1/8" = 3 px then 1" will need 24 px and 1 foot will need 288 px. I model in 4 mm scale (1/76), so these 288 px will be required to represent a distance of 4 mm on the model, or 72 px = 1mm. Hence, I need to set up a new page in PSE to a resolution of 720 px/cm. Click on 'New' and enter the dimensions shown below into the box that appears (I use a rather old version of PSE, so your input box may look different), These dimension will provide 10 cm lengths of lining - adjust the width of the drawing area if you need more or less.



New Page Set-up in PSE


When producing transfers, I aim to surround the patterned areas with the underlying body colour, to make for a smooth transition to adjacent painted areas. Thus, I flood-fill the new page with the basic green colour of the boiler. When I open the 'pre-1928' green from http://www.gwr.org.uk/liverieslococolour.html , the PSE colour picker indicates the colour as R,G,B = (1,46,3), so I fill with this, as the background colour.


Now use the 'Line' tool to draw a horizontal black line, with the width set to 36 px (= 1½") - hold down the 'Shift' key to constrain the tool. 'Simplify' this line, then draw an orange-chrome line of width 3px, close to the first line. For 'orange-chrome', I used R,G,B = (255,128,64). Zoom in to 'Actual Size' and use the 'Move' tool to place the orange line immediately adjacent to the black line. Repeat for the orange line on the opposite side of the band, and then 'Flatten' the image, in the 'Layers' menu. If you want to know more about moving and manipulating layers in PSE, you might like to read my article at http://home.btconnect.com/mike.flemming/layers.htm



Placing line with the 'Move' tool in PSE


If you want more lengths of this lining, select the complete band then copy and paste duplicate versions on your transfer sheet. Use 'Print Preview' to see how the complete transfer will appear on the page and, preferably, move the image towards the top edge of the sheet, so that the rest of the sheet can be used for other images. If you want to save the image for later use, save it as a TIFF file, rather than JPEG, to avoid any artefacts, which will spoil the crisp edges of the lines.



Print Preview screen in PSE


It's now necessary to set up your printer for high-quality printing at maximum dots per inch (DPI). On my HP printer, I select 'Presentation printing' under the 'Printing Shortcuts' tab and 'Maximum dpi' under the 'Paper/Quality' tab. This results in 4800 x 1200 dpi printing. Other printers will have different set-up procedures, so experimentation may be needed to get the best results.


I place a single sheet of decal paper in the feeder tray and, after printing, leave about 15 minutes for the ink to dry thoroughly. I use a guillotine to cut off the printed area - the rest of the sheet can be saved for further use. Next, it is vital to spray or brush the whole surface of the decal with waterproof varnish - I use Humbrol clear gloss, as I find the matt finish gives a slightly 'milky' look and softens the detail. Some printer inks (e.g. Epson) are claimed to be waterproof but I have not tried these and probably wouldn't trust them without varnish!


I cut out the bands individually from the transfer sheet, leaving a green edge to blend with the boiler paintwork, and immerse each one in clean (demin or distilled) water, with a couple of drops of washing-up liquid added as a wetting agent. The decals will curl up at first but should flatten after a minute or so - this can be helped with a paintbrush. I also 'paint' the body of the model with the same water and then use a paintbrush to slide the transfer off the backing paper onto the model, and tamp it down into place with the brush. Job done :)


Actually, you may find that 'true scale' lining is too 'subtle' in 4 mm scale (or smaller), so I have found that a slightly wider orange line can be desirable. Trial and error may be needed to meet your personal taste. The example shown below is my GWR 'Stella', converted from a Mainline Dean Goods. It was my first attempt and I may have over-done the orange a little, at least for photographic purposes - it looks quite good (to me), in practice.



GWR 'Stella' with 'home-made' Lining and Lettering



Next time, I will write about panels, corners,and adding logos, etc.



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This is absolutely marvellous and many thanks for going to the great trouble of spelling things out in words of one syllable. I think that even I can understand what you are describing so I am anxious to see if I can do the same thing in Photoshop CS2 or CS4.

I look forward to the next instalment with many thanks again. 

Will let you know how I get on.

Best regards

Michael dJS

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  • RMweb Gold

What a great and useful blog entry, Mike.


And I tell you, that view of your Stella makes my fingers itch. It's definetely on my one-fine-day list.

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Sorry, just one little point. When you create your new file you should set the resolution to be the maximum that your printer can print at, this will prevent any quality issues with PhotoShop up scaling the image through re sampling and ruining all your good work. To get the size line you want you may have to get out a calculator and do some simple sums to work out how many pixels the line needs to be. Another way to get the correct size line is to create a new document to the exact size of the line you want at the max resolution, fill it with the correct colour, then drag onto your original document. Also, be careful when printing (certainly in full PhotoShop), that you don't have 'scale to fit paper' selected and if it warns that 'image exceeds the printable area' (or some such thing), just ignore and will be fine as long as you have left a decent margin.


Just though of something else I do. To get the maximum use out of a decal sheet (which is A4), I have one A4 document per sheet and save each project as a separate layer in a different place on the same sheet, thus by moving to the next gap (and always putting the paper in the same way!), I can get loads of different things off the same sheet. I suspect Elements does not have layers but you could do this by just drawing on the same sheet and then just temporarily erasing the bits not required to be printed - harder to explain than to do!


I might finally get around to printing the advert for my destroyed building tonight.

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Thank you very much for the kind remarks, guys.


As one who holds the modelling displayed in www.gwr.org.uk in awe, I am somewhat astonished (pleasantly) by your comments on 'Stella', Mikkel - it was a very basic conversion and quite incorrect in many details - including,of course, the wheelbase! Certainly not a model on which to look for the odd missing rivet.


I now have a set of the RCTS books on GWR locomotives, so know that 3205 did not receive a Belpaire firebox until 1915, so it would never have looked like this, with red frames- sadly. 


However, 3505 did receive a B4 boiler in 1904, so that one might be a better candidate - until someone tells me why that won't do, either. 


Alas, the more one reads, the more difficult it becomes to make an accurate model :)



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Thank you for your additions, KH1. There are lots of problems that can arise when trying to match printer and screen resolutions. The screen uses additive (RGB) pixels, while the printer uses subtractive (CMYK) dots, so there is never a 1:1 correspondence.  Printer dots per inch (DPI) are not the same as pixels/inch and, usually, much higher printer DPI are needed than the screen pixel size would suggest.


This is one area which the full version of Photoshop manages, whereas PSE omits these specialised print functions. 


I haven't explored this subject very far but will show some microscope views in future posts, which illustrate this point.


PSE has had layers since version 2 and it is this feature which allows lines to be moved about, as I described.



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  • RMweb Gold

Hi Mike, thanks for this extra info. I had forgotten about the wheelbase issue. But the Belpaire boiler I imagine could simply be replaced? There was an article in RM many years ago which detailed a conversion from a Mainline Dean Goods to a roundtopped one, so something similar could perhaps be done.  I'm looking for options to convert RTR models to pregrouping at the moment. I don't get along well with chassisbuilding, and I've always liked chopping up RTR. Looking at your Stella, it is quite simply a very attractive model, I think.

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Hi Mike, thanks for your how to with the screen shots, very helpful. I reckon an old duffer like me can follow that alright.

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I don't get along well with chassis building, and I've always liked chopping up RTR.

I find chassis building a bit daunting as well - though pre-grouping 2-2-2s avoid many alignment problems.


Taking time - care and patience - seems to be the key.  I had some old K's kits that never ran well but, when i came back to them with 30 years more experience, I managed to get them running pretty well! 


As you know, I 'cheat', with options like tender drive and SPUD bogies :)



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Hi Mike, thanks for your how to with the screen shots, very helpful. I reckon an old duffer like me can follow that alright.

Pleased to help.  Having seen your profile, you're younger than me :)



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Many thanks from another "Old Duffer", I am now hoping to use this technique for the decor / livery of the carriages on "Bridgnorth", that is if, - at the present rate of progress - I live, and stay sane, long enough! I had no idea how to start before the above master-class.

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Thank you DonB. I'm working on a second part, to describe panel lining, which I hope will also be helpful.



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Mike, (following on from the BG forum).


PaintX is free download form the Apple App Store. Ridiculously easy to use. 


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Thank you for commenting RTJ.  I guess that in the 7 years since I wrote this, thre are plenty of newer software tools to make this job easier.  Pleased you have found it of interest.


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